North East floods: One year on

There was a sense of deja vu in a Northumberland town one year ago yesterday, as floods forced residents forced residents from their homes

Flooding in Newburn in 2012
Flooding in Newburn in 2012

There was an agonising sense of deja vu as residents in a Northumberland town were forced to evacuate their homes in the early hours, one year ago yesterday.

At around 6am on September 25 last year, people in around 100 households at Morpeth had to flee their properties as the River Wansbeck burst its banks in heavy rain.

It was a scenario townspeople hoped they would never have to go through again, with memories of the devastating floods of four years earlier still painfully fresh for many.

On that occasion, on September 6, 2008, up to 1,000 people were forced to flee around 400 flooded homes, with many unable to return for months.

Thankfully, however, 2012 turned out to be on a much smaller scale with around 40 homes being flooded.

Before and after: Flooding in Newburn and Heaton
Before and after: Flooding in Newburn and Heaton

Among those affected was John Best, a 55-year-old legal consultant, whose home at Abbey View was infiltrated by five inches of water.

It may not sound much, but it was enough to cause extensive damage to the back of the home he shares with his partner.

Their kitchen, utility and dining room were affected, with plaster having to be removed, floors needing to pulled up and the kitchen replaced piece by piece.

The couple had to create a temporary kitchen in their home for five months until things were back to normal.

The five months’ disruption compared very favourably to the floods of 2008, which saw the couple forced out of their home for two years.

Mr Best said: “Because the water was not as great as it was in 2008 it was much easier to fix. In 2008 we got more than four feet, it was a huge job.”

Following last year’s flood, there was some exasperation as to why long-awaited improvements to the town’s flood defences had not materialised in time to prevent a repeat of 2008.

Since then, work has of course begun on phase one of the £21m Environment Agency and Northumberland County Council project.

Alan Bell, chairman of the Morpeth Flood Action Group, said last night: “We are pleased that work is progressing but there is always going to be a risk until 2014, when it is completed, that we could have a similar event.”

And according to Mr Best, regardless of the work on the defences, homes like his remain at risk of flooding.

He claims his property was flooded 12 months ago not by the rising river, but by surface water run-off.

And Mr Best says a planned pumping station which would alleviate the surface water problem has been put on hold for the time being as the council and agency have insufficient funds, adding: “As a householder I do not really care where the water came from – it is in the house.”

A county council spokeswoman said: “We are looking at surface water solutions as part of the Morpeth flood alleviation scheme. We will be making a decision on a solution this autumn, but we have ruled nothing out yet.”

Also in Northumberland, flooding hit Rothbury, where water from the River Coquet entered four properties at the Matlings and one at Riverside.

At least two more homes flooded in Thropton and Netherton and a couple of cars were washed down the river.

On Tyneside, a month’s worth of rainfall in just 36 hours shut major roads and dozens of schools as emergency services worked around the clock to rescue residents trapped by rising water.

An apartment block at Newburn was left teetering on the edge of a raging waterfall, forcing residents to evacuate. The collapsed culvert beneath it – said to have been the cause of the damage – has since been repaired at a cost of £10m.

The River Wear also burst its banks in Durham city centre and at Chester-le-Street while flooding was also reported at Gateshead, Gosforth and Sunderland.

Meanwhile, a County Durham Catholic Academy has returned to brand new and remodelled facilities after flooding ruined extensive areas of the school and its sports pitches earlier this year. Pupils and staff at St Bede’s Catholic School and Sixth Form College in Lanchester are back in class to find completely refurbished ground floor areas throughout all buildings which were severely damaged during storms in late May.

The renovation project cost more than £400,000.


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